Automatic mailing of the Town Report to cease

Many other Vermont towns are using this option.

Automatic mailing of the Town Report to cease

It's the height of summer and time to gear up for July 4th. Town Meeting couldn't be further from people's minds, unless, of course, you work in the office of the Town Clerk and Treasurer. Here, planning ahead for key events in town administration is critical. 

Town Clerk Tracy Borst is already thinking about the annual Town Report, specifically about how it is distributed prior to Town Meeting. Her office coordinates the assembly of the Report, starting in November, with reminding, cajoling, and entreating individual town departments, boards, committees, commissions, and societies to contribute their yearly reports. The Town budget is an indispensable part of the Report, and that may not be agreed upon and finalized till late in January. Regional organizations, from Green Mountain Economic Development Corporation and EC Fiber to Green Up Vermont also want to submit their page. Collating all the parts and then editing and proofreading the entire document before sending it to the printer by the early February deadline is a monumental undertaking.

It is therefore disheartening to see piles of unopened Town Reports thrown into recycling bins at local Post Offices. Currently around 1000 Town Reports are mailed direct from the printer each year, one to each household and one to each non-resident property owner who opts to receive a Report by checking a box on their tax bill. 

The question pondered by the Clerk's Office has been how to reduce the waste of paper and resources as well as lower the cost of printing and postage, while delivering a Report to all who want it. In 2023 the Town spent $3,153 on printing and $790 on mailing Town Reports. This system of automatic mail delivery suffers some redundancy, because as soon as the Town Report is complete Tracy makes sure it is posted on the Town website where people can download it, bypassing printing and postage altogether. 

One paper- and cost-saving solution that would still deliver a hard copy of the Report would entail identifying the residents who would like to receive it. This could be done through checking a box on the slip returned with a tax payment. People could also inform the Clerk's office by calling Town Hall. It would take a few hours of staff time to solicit the information and then compile it into a database. 

Many other Vermont towns are using this option plus offering a sign-up form on the Town website. Some towns are omitting postage altogether by advertising one or more centralized pick-up locations. 

The proposal that was put before the Town Manager and the Selectboard on Monday June 17th was to mail postcards to the usual recipients this year, informing them that they need to "sign up" for a Town Report. In future years the Town would provide 1) the option on property tax bills to request a mailed copy, 2) publicize the digital copy already provided each year on the Town website, and 3) publicize that people may sign up for a hard copy via the website or by contacting Town Hall.

The Selectboard approved of this plan, but with some modifications. It was pointed out that people might choose to not receive a hard copy of the Report one year, but then change their mind subsequently. Annual reminders would be necessary, which should be indicated on the postcard. There was also concern that people who do not use computers might get left out. Tracy assured the Selectboard that hard copies would be available at Town Hall and that multiple avenues of outreach would be used, like phone calls, newspaper ads, bulletin boards, and Selectboard meetings. Notices could even be displayed at the transfer and recycling station.

The Selectboard accepted the idea, concluding that while postcards might not be sent every year, multiple communication methods would be used to reach as many people as possible.

Photo credit: Li Shen

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